This week, the rebuilding project that is Illinois coach John Groce's mandate became significantly tougher, at least in the short term, thanks to the surprising defection of an assistant coach hired just six weeks ago.
On Tuesday night, newly hired Illinois assistant Isaac Chew announced he would be leaving Illinois for a similar position at Marquette. According to Chew, who spoke with ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers via phone Tuesday, the decision was not an easy one, but one he made not only for his sake but for the sake of his family, too:
"I really appreciate the opportunity coach Groce gave me," Chew said by phone. "This wasn't my plan. I didn't seek this out. I think coach Groce is going to do great things at Illinois. This is just a situation I can't pass up for me and my family. It was a family decision.
"There were some factors involved that were important to me as well as my wife. As coaches, we often make decisions. We always tell our wives to make sacrifices. This is an opportunity for both of us. She really felt great about the decision."
[...] "This is an emotional decision," Chew said. "I feel bad because it is terrible timing. I can't change that. Obviously, I do believe in coach Groce's vision."
One can understand the decision while also finding it incredibly awkward. After all, plenty of people take jobs and then reverse their decisions, or get poorly timed offers that they nonetheless fell compelled to take. It happens. You shake hands and part ways, and oh well. But it's not exactly the height of professionalism to accept a commitment and then, six weeks later, accept another one; it's the kind of thing that a less-than-pleased boss might mention when someone else comes calling for a reference. If you just so happen to be a college basketball coach, it's the kind of thing that will get your short-lived fan base saying not-so-nice (but understandably frustrated) things about you.
Anyway, professional etiquette aside, the loss is especially difficult for Illinois because of the job Chew was hired to do: recruit Chicago. That was his calling card when he took the gig, the reason Marquette hired him away, and one of the most important things Groce is looking to do as he attempts to rebuild the shaky roster left behind by former coach Bruce Weber. Groce has ties to the area, but Chew was the man hired to spearhead the effort, and without him Groce must now find a replacement before the summer recruiting circuit kicks off in earnest.
It's hardly an enviable task -- and one Groce couldn't have foreseen just a few weeks ago.